Perhaps the most impactful moment of either of the political conventions was the one in which a Muslim father of a fallen U.S. soldier reclaimed dignity and patriotism with a six-minute speech. (If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself. I’ve inserted a link to it below). It helped to underscore several key things, most important of which is that everyone deserves to be judged on their own merits, not on the “class” or religion they belong to. Under Trump’s broad and clumsy pronouncements, a family like this one would have been excluded from our country. And, yet, they represent the best America has to offer. Like the man, Khizr Khan, said in his speech, they’ve sacrificed more for America than most.
It helped remind me and many others why the ideals of this country are so important. We believe in the rights of the individual. It was a revolutionary concept at the founding of our country, but it remains equally vital today, with demagogues like Trump still trying to stir us to hatred with generalizations instead of high ideals.
But here’s the other thing it helped remind me of: I couldn’t remember the last time I read the Constitution cover to cover. I didn’t feel like I could own the moral high ground of criticizing Trump over what is undoubtedly an ignorance of it if my own knowledge of it is cherry-picked from what I remember from Civics class. So I downloaded an app and read it.
I was again struck by the elegance of the document. Remember that nothing of its kind existed at the time, and crafting a document to guide a new nation to fairness and rule of law must have seemed a great gamble and a huge responsibility. We revere our Founding Fathers, but I prefer to humanize them and imagine how tough a job they had. It proved to be an act of imagination and courage seldom duplicated in the history of humanity.
But in several places of the document you can see evidence of that experimentation and humanity. In Section 8 of Article 1, for example, they enumerate the Congress’ power to build “post roads,” giving a hint to the rural nature of the country they were founding. Also in that section they are granted the right to punish “piracies,” not exactly a huge problem these days unless you’re sailing close to the shore of Somalia. They also provide for the ” Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.” (Side note: I just love the word “needful”). Everywhere the document gives hints of just how different a world existed at the time of its creation. Section 2 of Article 4, saying slaves who escaped shouldn’t be freed but returned to their owners, stood for nearly eighty years until we did better and passed the 13th Amendment.
Anyway, I thank Mr. Khan for many things, but mostly for the inspiration to re-read this important historical document. It brought it to life for me in a personal and immediate way. I imagined the framers poring over the words, trying to get them right, getting them down with inkwells and in candlelight.
They were remarkable. they were human. Which is why we must revere their great accomplishment, especially those which have stood the test of time, and revisit those that haven’t, like clauses that make our elections less democratic than they should be. (I’m looking at you, Electoral College).
I highly recommend that you take a moment to re-read it if you haven’t in a while. It’s only 4,543 words long. In a year where everything is at stake, it’s good to remember what this grand experiment in democracy was intended to be – bold, evolving, idealistic and, most of all, hopeful. Click here to read the full text.
And he’s Mr. Khan’s moving speech. The part that’s getting all the play starts around 3:20, but it’s worth investing the full six minutes to hear everything he’s got to say.